It was a deflating, yet fitting, way for Washington to end its game against the Dallas Stars. Capitals defenseman John Carlson stood behind Washington’s net and passed the puck up the ice. Forward Jakub Vrana stumbled trying to get to it. And then it was picked off by Dallas center Jason Dickinson, who spun toward goaltender Braden Holtby and fired for the overtime winner. Another turnover had burned Washington.
Though the Capitals have proved to be resilient this season and never quite out of a game even when they have dug themselves into a hole, the same puck management mistakes continue to hurt them. In the 4-3 loss to Dallas at Capital One Arena, Washington allowed four goals off turnovers, and while the team played well in the game’s later stages, it still couldn’t overcome its own blunders.
“Some unforced errors cost us,” Coach Todd Reirden said.
The Capitals (5-4-3) have been wildly inconsistent to start the season, unable to string together consecutive wins. Until Saturday night, they had only lost two straight once. Their games have similarly been a roller coaster, and against the Stars (8-5-0), Washington overcame a 3-1 deficit for a second straight game. Dallas defenseman Roman Polak was called for interference 6:39 into the third period, giving the Capitals’ top-ranked power-play unit an opportunity to equalize.
Center Evgeny Kuznetsov sneaked a shot over goaltender Ben Bishop’s shoulder, beating him high short side for his sixth power-play goal. He flapped his arms to imitate a bird, a trademark celebration for him. That ensured the game went to overtime, where star Dallas center Tyler Seguin got a penalty shot less than a minute in. Holtby saved it, deflecting the puck away with the tip of his glove. Dickinson decided it with 1:43 left in the extra period.
“We played the way we wanted to for parts of it,” Holtby said. “There’s some positive things in there, but myself, everyone, we still want to keep pushing forward.”
After the Capitals’ loss in Montreal on Thursday night, Reirden lamented how Washington hasn’t been able to string together a “60-minute game” to this point in the season. And while he was happier with Washington’s overall play Saturday, the team got off to a poor start with a 2-0 hole in the first period because of what Reirden called “mental mistakes.” The Capitals entered allowing 3.82 goals per game, tied for the third most in the NHL.
After the top line had an extended shift in the Stars’ zone and applied pressure on Bishop, a turnover by defenseman Matt Niskanen resulted in a breakaway by Jason Spezza for the game’s first goal. Ten seconds later, Holtby played the puck behind the net, and his attempt at ringing it around the glass to a teammate got picked off by Tyler Pitlick, who scored on a wraparound with Holtby scrambling to get back in position. By the end of the first period, Washington had 11 giveaways to Dallas’s two.
“We’ve been turning a lot of pucks over lately, and sometimes you’ve got to chip it in the corner and go get it, take the body, keep it a little more simple, and when the play is there, you make it,” said forward Brett Connolly, who scored Washington’s second goal. “We’re a little off on that right now, but we’ll find it. We’re too good of a team not to. It’s just a matter of fixing the little details, and we’ll be fine. But we’re still looking for that full 60 — a really, really good game. We’ll find it, but it’s going to take a little bit more from each guy.”
Just 38 seconds into the second period, Nicklas Backstrom unfurled a fluttering puck to beat Bishop high short side. But the Capitals’ puck mismanagement burned them again. Vrana had a turnover behind Washington’s net, and Dallas capitalized with a tic-tac-toe passing play that resulted in a Jamie Benn goal to make it a 3-1 game. The 22-year-old Vrana has been playing on the Capitals’ top line with Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin as winger Tom Wilson continues to serve a 20-game suspension for an illegal check to the head during the preseason.
“We’re going through a situation right now where we’re giving players an opportunity with Tom Wilson out, so guys are getting opportunities,” Reirden said.
When asked if he feels those players are taking advantage of those opportunities, Reirden said, “Some cases, yes. Some cases, no.”
“That’s the difficulty about being a top-six player in this league: You have to be on every night, and that consistency shift to shift is huge,” Reirden said. “That’s what makes elite players, and some of it is getting the opportunity and learning and growing from it. It’s something that you have a difficult time living with it if it’s Game 70, but at Game 11, 12, you understand that you have to put young players in situations where they’re either going to flourish or they’re going to go through some more struggles and realize that their development is still maybe not where it needs to be.”
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